Editorial: Random roommate assignments foster exploration, growth among first-years

Among the multitude of changes the university made in the 2017—2018 academic year to student housing included adjusting the first-year housing assignment process. According to the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife), students can no longer request specific roommates, with the Class of 2022 the first to be affected by the policy change. While this change is a positive one for future classes, further changes can be made to ensure the success and stability of first-year students.

In years past, the random roommate option has been optional, allowing students to handpick their roommate through the Facebook group or other social media platforms. ResLife’s new system now matches all students based on their preferences. The new system shifts away from students choosing roommates via social media, which can be more misleading than telling of someone’s true personality. Often times, students will gravitate towards similarity, but this new system might allow for exploration that transcends background to facilitate learning and cultural competency.

According to Matt Austin, associate director of housing operations, Residential Life “really wants people, at least for their first year, to deepen and broaden their horizons. Get to know people who aren’t like you.”

Tufts’ new system is not unusual. Many universities are moving toward an all-random system. Some schools, such as Harvard University and Duke University, have made similar changes in pursuit of teaching students to engage with diverse people. Davidson College takes an interesting approach to randomization that Tufts should consider. They base their roommate selection on a plethora of different answers, not just personal interests and sleep schedule. They take into account student preferences, hobbies, study habits and students’ Myers-Briggs types, according to Davidson’s student life website. And on average, 35–40 percent of people there continue to live with their roommate in their sophomore year.

Tufts’ current selection process includes basic questions on sleep schedule and study preferences along with a section on music taste, where students are asked to rank different genres of music from one to 10. Although the current system does attempt to match students beyond their bedtime preferences or study habits, they give much less weight to questions about intellectual interests and passions. If the university maintains the random roommate process, giving more weight to questions relating to social preferences or a student’s personality traits could be beneficial to fostering friendship between first-year roommates.

Duke specifically changed their roommate selection process to encourage students to “embrace new experiences” and expose students to different cultures and viewpoints, according to their Housing and Residence Life. They also focus on blending curricular and co-curricular experiences for first year residences; each of their four “residential neighborhoods” has its own academic dean, advisors and resource librarian. Despite Tufts’ attempt to group residence halls into neighborhoods like Tilton and Bush Halls or Miller and Houston Halls and have similar programming, little to no community exists on a broad scale in and across residential halls.

The new system evens the playing field for all students and, in doing so, promotes a healthier, more equitable culture on campus. If the university implemented a more holistic approach to the housing selection process and invested in first-years’ communities to solidify “houses” or “neighborhoods,” future students could reap the benefits of this new housing system.